"Ask me to stay."


He watched her face fall, her eyes shine with tears, her sodden curls bounce on her shoulders as she spun on her heel and retraced her steps to the elevator.

"Wait, let me explain-" he grabbed his keys and a jacket from the hook by the door and slammed it shut behind him. "Stella, please!"

She pressed for the carriage, her arms folding around her, her foot tapping as she looked up to the floor dial. She shuddered against the chill her rain-soaked clothes sent down her spine as she cast a quick glance to Mac – bounding down the hall after her – and escaped through the door to the stairs.

She'd only looked to him for barely a second but he could have kicked himself for the amount of hurt that he saw, hurt that he'd caused. "Please, let me explain!" He held onto the railing as followed her into the stairwell and took them two at a time.

He managed to reach her and spun her to him as they stood between floors.

"What more is there to say?" her arms folded over her chest again, her eyes cast to the floor.

He wrapped the jacket around her shoulders, thankful when she pulled it tighter around herself. "There's why I said no, Stella."

She swallowed but gestured for him to continue.

He grabbed her arms and guided her to sit on the stairs, tucking a curl behind her ear. "I want you to stay, of course I do. The thought of coming to work and not having you there is horrible to me. To not see you everyday..." He sighed, "But I will not ask you to stay. Not for me. The opportunity that you have in New Orleans is too much. You're going to do great things, Stella, and it's not fair for me to ask you not to."

A tear slid down her cheek as her head fell to his shoulder.

"No matter how much I want to."

She buried her nose in the collar of his jacket, feeling the warmth of him surrounding her completely as she twisted in his grasp. "Ask me to stay the night, then," she whispered into his ear, placing the lightest of kisses to the corner of his mouth.

His hand slid up to her neck and pulled her towards him before her lips had barely left his.

He kissed her. God did he kiss her. Years of passion and longing and restraint melted away as she fisted his shirt in her palms.

"This is a goodbye," he whispered against her lips.

She could only nod as she entwined her fingers with his, pulling him to his feet and back towards his apartment.